Living together in New York when the 9/11 attacks took place in 2001, Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein participated in an impromptu concert at International House where they were living at the time.
Designed to help calm themselves and the other residents amid the fear and confusion, the experience would eventually influence their work as the writers of the Broadway musical Come From Away.
Marrying shortly after their return to Canada some years later, the two began working; she as an actor, he as a songwriter. Collaborating on the musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, based on a song written by Hein, the show went on to be a hit at the 2009 Toronto Fringe, before being picked up by producer David Mirvish for a run at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre.
Their collaboration with the offbeat musical comedy, soon got the attention of Canadian lawyer and theatre producer Michael Rubinoff. Looking for someone to write a musical about the people of Gander, Newfoundland and their response to the 38 planes and 6,700 people who landed during the 9/11 crisis, Sankoff and Hein accepted Rubionoff’s challenge.
As the duo set out researching the people involved, Sankoff and Hein realized the story of what happened in the tiny town of 11,000 on “The Rock” the day after 9/11 not only needed to be told through the authentic music of the region, but also in the small acts of kindness and comradery of the residents who helped to ease the pain and fear of the strangers who landed on their shore. Some of those they met and interviewed would eventually become characters in the musical, while others would be amalgamated into composite characters.
Originally workshopped and produced in 2012 at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, a small production was mounted at the college a year later. Immediately seeing the show had struck a chord with audiences, the show would go on to record breaking runs in San Diego and Seattle in 2015, before opening at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre in 2016.
Transferring to Broadway in 2017, the musical played to rave reviews and would go onto become one of the longest running Canadian musicals in Broadway history, surpassing The Drowsy Chaperone’s previous record of 674 performances.
Nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2017, the show won Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley.
This human and touching musical about what happened on September 12 has broken box-office records in every theatre it has played and Vancouver audiences will soon get an opportunity to see for themselves as the touring production lands on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in March.
Come From Away plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (630 Hamilton St, Vancouver) March 5-10. Visit vancouver.broadway.com for tickets and information.